It's pretty clear that game designers have come full circle. Back in the '80s and early '90s, the hardware forced them to perfect the side-scrolling platformer, but once 3D became an element to toy with, that's where the world went. Now that they've had their fill of huge, explorable open world environments, we're seeing a trend that brings us back to game designs that made us fall in love with video games. New Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Limbo, Super Meat Boy -- strict side-scrollers that embrace the limitations of the perspective enforced on them while still utilizing the tech at their disposal.
Now, add Kirby's Epic Yarn to the list. A game that creates an incredibly unique and clever world of fabric, Epic Yarn's style actually enhances the traditional gameplay mechanics. Kirby's Epic Yarn features an environment built entirely out of material you'd find in an arts and crafts store. Quilt patterns and fabric form the world, and yarn, string, and buttons are the building blocks of all the creatures…our hero included.
Anyone who's familiar with Kirby may notice that he lacks his usual "suck enemies" power as has been a staple for the character for many of his platforming adventures. But his lack of air pressure attacks is written in and dismissed, and now Kirby wanders his world winding his enemies up into deadly balls of yarn and lobbing them at destructible walls and other bad guys. By the time you hit the quilted environments for the first time, you'll easily forget how a Kirby game is "supposed" to play. Kirby's Epic Yarn style and substance fits the character's charm and cuteness perfectly.
A lot of Kirby's gameplay is by-the-book platforming that will immediately be familiar to anyone who's picked up a video game in the last 20 years. But as traditional as the gameplay is, it's the style that enhances the tradition: Kirby can pull zippers to unfold the next part of the level or tug down the fabric in order to make a ledge come down to his level. Kirby can explore the world players can see, but he can also manage to push his way behind the fabric and maneuver through the stitching like a secondary world, all the while only revealing his bulge to the player actually controlling him.
Kirby's Epic Yarn is an incredible looking game that really puts the Nintendo Wii's strengths up front: it may not be an HD capable system and its 3D capabilities might be a generation or two behind its console competitors, but thanks to the style's restrictive camera and side-scrolling environment, the team at Good Feel – the same guys that worked on the impressive Wario Land: Shake It a few years back – pull off a visually impressive game that's something unlike anything we've ever seen in a video game. Kirby and his second player partner Prince Fluff animate with incredible fluidity because they're just a looped piece of fluffy yarn. Environments are gorgeous because they're constructed of photorealistic swatches of felt and fabric that move, flow, and wrinkle realistically when players tug and pull on the background.
The designers even enhance the traditional action with some really cool transformation elements that shift the core game mechanics to ensure that the gameplay doesn't get stale. You'll constantly find areas where you'll turn into a dolphin to swim and jump with incredible grace and fluidity, or change into a UFO to suck up enemies and blast the entire screen with an impressive energetic jolt. You'll transform into a fire truck to douse flames with water streams made of yarn or change into a space ship to enter a classic side-scrolling shoot-em-up. There's even a little nod to the Nintendo DS Kirby's Canvas Curse with a train transformation where players "paint" track down for Kirby to follow.
By the look of the game it's pretty obvious, but it definitely needs to be mentioned: Kirby's Epic Yarn is a younger skewing game, and as such, experienced gamers might find less of a challenge here than in other high profile games. Kirby may take a hit from an enemy or fall off the world, but players are not punished with the finality of losing a life. So, with that said, beating Kirby's Epic Yarn is not a challenge, and you should know that right from the start.
Unlocking all the goodies including extra levels within a world, however, is a challenge, and that's where this younger skewing game can appeal to the experienced gamer. Players are rewarded for collecting beads (think this game's Mario coins or Sonic rings) and getting through the levels as unscathed as possible. Each level notes when you've completed it with a bronze, silver, or gold status, and that status is obtained by making it to the finish holding onto as many beads as you can. Taking a hit or falling off a ledge will cause beads to spill out of Kirby/Prince Fluff's "pocket," which can have a negative effect on the medal earned at the end of the level. Even more so during boss battles: on top of the gold status, there's a "Patch" that can be earned which will open up a branching level path after he's defeated – so it's important to get through those big bosses without taking damage.
There's also the secondary "sandbox" mode that lets players customize an apartment with all the unlockables earned in a level and the items purchased with all the beads. So if you're into the Colorforms arts and crafts, there's at least that to keep you coming back, but for the most part, the game's strengths are in its core platforming.
Kirby's Epic Yarn is equally fun as a solo outing as it is a two-player game, and the experience is drastically different because of the balance that went into getting a second player in there. By yourself you might have to think about how you'll get up to a high platform, for example understanding that you need to grab an enemy to throw into a wall that will drop a platform down. In co-op, players can use each other to their advantage, so a player can simply grab the other guy and throw him around to grab something that was out of reach. It's a great way to get other players involved, and it borrows heavily from the great co-op design established in New Super Mario Bros. Wii: if the other player gets stuck, he can simply reset to the other person's location by tapping a button.
The give and take here with the co-op is that both players share the score, and if one player takes a hit, both players are penalized with the loss of precious beads. It's certainly possible to get everything with two players, but honestly if you're a completionist, you probably will not want to have a Player Two to get in the way.